Go behind the scenes of a baseball stadium in immersive ASU play

Arizona State University's School of Music, Dance and Theatre is presenting a unique, immersive theater experience with “Safe at Home,” which is being presented at Tempe Diablo Stadium on Feb. 3–11.

Theatergoers will view the production at nine locations around the stadium as they move from scene to scene in groups of 35. The actors stay in each location, doing their scenes for each group. Guests will get to see the locker rooms, press box and other behind-the-scenes locations during the play, which features ASU students, alumni, staff and faculty.

Tempe Diablo is the spring training home of the Los Angeles Angels baseball team, which will begin competing there on Feb. 26.

“Safe at Home” uses baseball as a framework to explore larger political and human rights issues. Set just as the seventh game of the World Series is about to start, one team has a star pitcher from the Dominican Republic. But will he decide not to pitch as a protest against a new federal policy that restricts immigration?

The play is guest directed by Jack Reuler, who directed a previous production of “Safe at Home,” held in 2017 at a minor league stadium in St. Paul, Minnesota.

“The audience gets to be voyeurs in each of these scenes,” said Rueler, founder and artistic director emeritus of Mixed Blood Theatre in Minnesota. He has worked with ASU students several times in prior productions.

“It’s kind of a thriller. Each scene is seven minutes, and the end of the seven minutes is a cliff-hanger and the audience has three minutes to get to the next scene.

“The audience gets to see parts of the stadium they never would get to during a ballgame. They become insiders and part of the conversation themselves.”

Reuler said the audience doesn’t have to know anything about baseball to enjoy the show, whose characters includes players, fans, vendors, coaches and journalists. There’s a nonverbal scene between the official mascot and the unofficial mascot.

“It’s all about who gets to represent the team and who gets to represent the city and who gets to tell the story,” he said of the mascot scene.

The play was written by Gabriel Greene and Alex Levy, who are big baseball fans. They revised the show to make it specific to Tempe Diablo, and they also added more female characters.

Simonne Campos, a senior majoring in transborder Chicano and Latino studies, plays Alejandra, a journalist who works for a small Spanish-language newspaper who is about to publish a high-stakes story that could provoke outrage and protests.

Campos has always loved theater but wanted a major that is more focused on community action.

“I didn’t expect the show to have a connection to what I study,” she said.

“It was a shot in the dark when I asked to audition, and it turns out it’s two things I love coming together in a beautiful way — theater performance and representation in the Latino community.

“It’s dealing with issues of immigration and race relations and microaggressions and a mindset of ‘this is the way it’s always been done’ and trying to change that.”

Tanner Conley, who graduated with a theater degree from ASU in December, plays Victor, the star pitcher. After he got the role, he started researching how Major League Baseball recruits young Latin American players.

“These kids are scouted at a very young age by these teams that have their own schools, almost like boarding schools, for the kids to train in baseball, and when they get close to the age of 18, maybe one in 10 goes to the U.S. to train with a pro team and try to make it to the next level,” he said.

Tanner Conley in costume at Tempe Diablo Stadium, where theatergoers will get to see behind-the-scenes locations like the press box and locker rooms during the play "Safe at Home." Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

In the play, the pitcher’s brother had been a great baseball player, but was injured and discarded by the team. He ends up in a detention center, where he is beaten and interrogated.

“If Victor does pitch in the final game of the World Series, he’ll be saying that it’s OK to pass these laws,” Conley said.

“It’s an internal struggle of identity for him. It’s a struggle of finding out what morals and standards he must uphold with $400 million on the line while he’s a guy who just wants to play ball.”

Jerry Hall, manager of Tempe Diablo, said the stadium has never hosted a theater experience before.

“We’ve had concerts and other events on the field and special events like car shows, but nothing of this nature,” he said.

The play will be physically demanding not only for the 20 actors but also for the audience, who will be standing and walking for more than 90 minutes, including using the stairs. (Elevators will be available for people who need them.)

“It’s a test of stamina because the actors do their scenes over and over again eight times and have to be precise at seven minutes — not six minutes and 59 seconds and not 7 minutes and one second,” Rueler said.

The setting makes “Safe at Home” tricky to stage.

“There are a lot of issues in terms of sound and lights. It’s a logistical and production challenge, but it’s an audience delight,” said Rueler, who once directed an immersive theater experience at a zoo that had the audience vote with their phones on how it would end. The actors needed to know 12 different endings.

Campos is looking forward to the challenge and thinks that “Safe at Home” will be exciting for the audience.

“It’s not the stereotypical proscenium theater show,” she said.

“It quite literally takes you onto the set.”

“Safe at Home” is funded by a Wavemaker Arts Grant from the city of Tempe. Buy tickets.

Top image: Tanner Conley, who graduated with a degree in theater from ASU in December, is photographed in costume at Tempe Diablo Stadium, where "Safe at Home" will be shown. Conley plays the star pitcher Victor in the immersive theater experience. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News

Mary Beth Faller
marybeth.faller@asu.edu